DA op-ed: Rapid communications are the key to school safety

By Debi Davis June 26, 2019

The Battle of New Orleans was fought two weeks after the War of 1812 ended. It took even longer for word to reach British and American troops that the war was over. When it comes to school tragedies, we face the same challenges today.

Ineffective communication

The inadequacies of school communications systems became tragically apparent during the shootings last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Delayed response times and the inability to communicate effectively were among the problems now being addressed. We’re not pointing fingers, but analysis clearly indicates that from a technological standpoint, the communications systems were antiquated, which resulted in significant delays in response times from law enforcement agencies.

Some of the issues included:

  • Every 911 call went to the nearby Coral Springs Police Department, which doesn’t provide service to Parkland.
  • While these calls were transferred to the proper dispatcher, there were delays.
  • School administrators desperately tried to communicate with people in the school through the PA system. Few heard the announcements.
  • The “common” radio systems linking police departments failed.
  • There was an inability to locate the shooter on the sprawling campus.
  • There was no effective way to keep parents informed, resulting in crowds arriving in the vicinity of the school and in additional trauma to students.

The one common denominator was that students and administrators were using their cell phones to text, email or post information on social media. Every 911 call originated from a cell phone.

It is clear that this communications platform can be used by schools to address emergency situations as well as less serious situations, such as hallway disturbances, plumbing malfunctions, and updates on classroom or club activities.

There’s an app for that

Existing application technology can be bundled into one app that can create secure websites for a school, class or club. Students and parents can be invited into these secure communities and kept informed about activities, absences and grades. Most important: In the event of an emergency, appropriate parties—first responders, parents, students and teachers—can be accurately informed.

Such systems can be activated immediately through a cell phone app. An administrator does not have to waste precious time walking back to the office to call first responders on a landline.

Existing app technology can be implemented to:

  • send “code red” alerts, for example, to the nearest police station
  • send push notifications—which work through Wi-Fi networks—to students and teachers, ordering lockdowns and evacuations, and to parents, providing timely updates on any situation
  • enable first responders to know exactly where the emergency is occurring through GPS features
  • disseminate accurate information on events such as school activities, hurricane or snow days, etc.
  • archive all communication

As we learned with the Parkland tragedy, virtually every student, teacher and administrator was using cell phone technology, so why not use these tools to improve communication and help control a crisis situation? Using push communications eliminates potential cell phone network overloads during emergencies as well.

This type of communications system is part of a layered approach to securing our schools. In addition to the security function, the efficiency of teacher-student and parent-teacher communication is also improved.

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Debi Davis is the COO of FrandMe Education, which focuses on enhancing school security and communications.